Three education groups propose alternate Virginia history standards

Draft history and social science standards expected to come before Board of Ed in January

By: - December 20, 2022 5:01 pm

The Virginia Department of Education is located in the James Monroe Building in Richmond. (Scott Elmquist/ Style Weekly)

Three education groups have asked the Virginia Board of Education to consider an alternative version of the history and social science standards for K-12 schools.

On Tuesday morning, the Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium, Virginia Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and American Historical Association published their own draft standards, developed after the November draft released by Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration led to public outcry.

“Even though there may be folks from different political parties that are members of all these organizations and there may be different perspectives, there’s one thing that we all know and that is good curriculum writing, good standards, and good history — and so we centered those things to create this document,” said Ma’asehyahu Isra-Ul, president of the Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium.

Charles Pyle, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education, said agency staff were neither consulted nor involved in the creation of the groups’ draft standards. He said staff are continuing to prepare the administration’s final draft standards for presentation early next year.

The Board of Education delayed its review of new history and social science standards to January after hours of public criticism during the Nov. 17 public hearing. The board also directed Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow to revise the newest standards, which were finalized Nov. 10, to include content from an earlier draft introduced in August. Staff were directed to incorporate public feedback, prepare a “crosswalk” document comparing the drafts and correct all errors, omissions and inaccuracies.

The standards created by the education groups follow the same approach in bringing together parts of the August and November drafts, according to an executive summary.

Isra-Ul said the three groups developed their own standards using input from each other, as well as from organizations and supporters of the August draft standards, since the Nov. 17 public hearing. 

According to the executive summary, the groups’ draft standards aimed to “ensure that content was accurate, age-appropriate, inclusive, and vertically articulated in a manner that supports a natural progression of content, depth, and skill acquisition.”

Isra-Ul said VDOE had not contacted the three groups to help draft the November standards.

“We’re the folks who do this work on the ground, and not to have the voice of teachers and the voice of building administrators and the voice of superintendents in the room is a major problem,” he said.

Jim Grossman, executive director for the American Historical Association, said his group had been contacted by the Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium and Virginia Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development to prepare an independent version of the standards. 

“As the largest organization of professional historians in the world, the AHA can provide expertise and insights into history education at all levels, and we were happy to be helpful,” Grossman said in an email to the Mercury. “Our response in such situations is generally ‘how can we help?’ The answer here was to collaborate on the preparation of this document.”

The new draft standards are expected to come before the board in January. The Commission on Civic Education, which only has advisory powers, is expected to discuss the draft standards at a meeting on Wednesday.

Revising the August draft

The November draft history and social science standards presented by the Youngkin administration sparked a range of criticisms, ranging from the document’s reference to Indigenous people as immigrants to the omission of Martin Luther King Jr. and Juneteenth from the elementary standards.

Many speakers at a November public hearing asked the board to instead move forward with an August draft that included material based on two years of public input from educators, historians, museums, organizations, parents and VDOE staff. 

Questions also surrounded who the administration had tapped to produce the November draft. A list later released by the Department of Education included Bill Bennett, who served as U.S. Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank. 

During the November meeting, Sheila Byrd Carmichael, a consultant hired by VDOE to review the draft standards, implied that one of the reviewers was Susan Wise Bauer, an author and educator who is prominent in the homeschooling field.

Bauer later posted on social media that she had been contacted for input on the standards but had declined.

“I expressed that I found them developmentally inappropriate and lacking in many ways, but that the time frame did not allow me to suggest revisions,” she wrote in an open letter to Balow, Carmichael and Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera. “To express PUBLICLY that I was consulted is an out and out falsehood. I need an immediate public retraction of this statement, and will certainly consider taking legal action if this is not done.” 

Carmichael later sent a letter apologizing for “unintentionally implying” Bauer had anything to do with the “deeply flawed” draft standards document.


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Nathaniel Cline
Nathaniel Cline

Nathaniel is an award-winning journalist who's been covering news across the country since 2007, including politics at The Loudoun Times-Mirror and The Northern Neck News in Virginia as well as sports for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio. He has also hosted podcasts, worked as a television analyst for Spectrum Sports, and appeared as a panelist for conferences and educational programs. A graduate of Bowie State University, Nathaniel grew up in Hawaii and the United Kingdom as a military brat. Five things he must have before leaving home: his cellphone, Black Panther water bottle, hand sanitizer, wedding ring and Philadelphia Eagles keychain.